12/08/2007 1:00AM

Velez making a fresh start

EmailOLDSMAR, Fla. - Often a jockey needs a change of scenery to give a stalled career a boost and get himself on a roll.

Jose Velez Jr. is a case in point. A veteran with more than 3,000 wins, Velez has a resume that includes riding titles at Gulfstream and Calder, membership in the Calder Racing Hall of Fame, and mounts in the Breeders' Cup and Dubai World Cup. He was a perennial power at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands over the past 14 years, but this summer his business slowed. He split with his agent, and as the winter approached, he pondered his next move.

"I'm a competitive guy," said Velez, 44. "Like most riders I want to have the stock to compete, to have a chance to put my mounts in the race and have a chance to win."

When he found out Herson Sanchez was available to be his agent at Tampa Bay, Velez said, "it was an easy choice."

Sanchez, a fan favorite here in his riding days, came to Tampa last season with Daniel Centeno, a 28-year-old who had ridden with mixed success at such tracks as Thistledown and Mountaineer. Six months later, Centeno won the Tampa riding title, with a track record 125 winners. He also led the country in wins through the first two months of the season.

Sanchez said he's excited to work for Velez. "He's a world-class rider," said Sanchez. "I know how tough he can be, because I remember riding against him when he would come here for stakes.

"When he said he was eager to get on live horses and get rolling, I didn't hesitate. We've had excellent response from the local horsemen, and I've been getting calls from Miami from trainers Jose has ridden for in the past letting us know they'll be using him when they ship here.

"Being a good agent is having the right product, and I've got that in Jose."

Takeout lowered

Tampa Bay has lowered its takeout on several wagers and added a pick six in hopes of attracting new players. The pick six will be offered on the final six races of each program.

The takeout on the pick four has been reduced from 25 percent to 20 percent, while the takeout on win, place, and show was cut from 18 percent to 17.5 percent. The pick-three takeout dropped from 21.5 percent to 20 percent.

* The minimum stakes purse this meet is $65,000.